Letter to F. A. Sorge (19.04.1890)

A letter containing Engels' thesis about the "colossal heap of rubbish".

Proletarians of all countries, unite!


Friedrich Engels

Collected Works, Vol. 48
Lawrence & Wishart
London, 1975-2004

Reproduced by
The Red Flag


Dear Sorge,

I receive the Nationalist regularly, but unfortunately it contains very little of interest. They are a poor imitation of the Fabians in this country. Superficial and shallow as the Dismal Swamp, but proud of the noble magnanimity with which they, the «educated» bourgeois, condescend to emancipate the workers; in return however the workers must keep quiet and obediently carry out the orders of the «educated» cranks and their isms. Let them amuse themselves for a little while, but one fine day the movement will efface all this. We continentals, who have felt the influence of the French Revolution in quite a different way, have the advantage that such things are quite impossible here…

In a country with such an old political and labour movement there is always a colossal heap of traditionally inherited rubbish which has to be got rid of by degrees. There are the prejudices of the skilled unions — engineers, bricklayers, carpenters and joiners, type compositors, and so on — which have all to be broken down; the petty jealousies of the particular trades, which become intensified in the hands and heads of the leaders to direct hostility and secret struggle; there are the mutually obstructive ambitions and intrigues of the leaders: one wants to get into Parliament and so does somebody else, another wants to get on to the County Council or School Board, another wants to organise a general centralisation of all the workers, another to start a paper, another a club, and so on, and so forth. In short, there is friction upon friction. And among them all the Socialist League, which looks down on everything which is not directly revolutionary (which means here in England, as with you, everything which does not limit itself to making phrases and otherwise doing nothing) and the Federation, who still behave as if everyone except themselves were asses and bunglers, although it is only due to the new force of the movement that they have succeeded in getting some following again. In short, anyone who only looks at the surface would say it was all confusion and personal quarrels. But under the surface the movement is going on, it is seizing ever wider sections of the workers and mostly just among the hitherto stagnant lowest masses, and the day is no longer far off when this mass will suddenly find itself, when the fact that it is this colossal self-impelled mass will dawn upon it, and when that day comes short work will be made of all the rascality and wrangling.